Q: WHO ARE SOME OF THE FAMOUS CELEBRITIES THAT YOU’VE TRAVELED WITH ON THE CONCORDE?
A: I’ve flown with countless celebrities and famous persons over the years. Once you’re on that Concorde, everybody’s equal. If you try to reach the heads of film studios on the ground, you’d have walls and walls of people to get through. Try and say hello to Paul McCartney on the ground, and you’d have a job. But once you get on that airplane, it’s “Hello, how are you doing?”
I flew many times with Paul McCartney - he used to draw happy faces and hand them out to everybody. I flew with The Who, Led Zeppelin, I flew with heads of businesses. I flew with Ricky Nelson, Joan Collins, Joan Rivers. I flew with Superwoman, and we took her to the pub and had a pint afterwards.
Do you remember John Denver? I was on a flight with him on Christmas Day from Paris to New York, and there were three of us, so he got out his guitar and played “Country Roads” for us, and that was one of my favorite songs.
I met the guy that managed the Beatles and the guy that managed the Bee Gees. I flew with Bruce Springsteen, got along very well with him, and he used to get off the plane and ask the BA guy “How many flights has Fred done now?” This is what we used to do. Muhammad Ali, I flew with, Floyd Patterson. Golfers in the Ryder Cup from England, they used to fly on Concorde, so I met the golfers. It was quite amazing. I flew with Presidents, Presidents’ wives, and ex-Presidents.
Q: WHAT WERE SOME OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES IN THE AIR?
A: Of course, you always remember your first flight. I used to live near an airfield, and as a kid riding on my bike, I would pester these guys to give me a flight. They took me into their airplane one day and turned me upside down, and all I had on was a seatbelt, 4,000 feet in the air. I flew my first commercial flight in 1958 from an airport in London, and we landed in Scotland, Iceland, Maine, and then Idlewild (now Kennedy), and I remember those flights clearly like it was yesterday.
One time, I did three crossings on the Concorde in a day, which was the most that anyone has done. It’s impossible to do now. A company that I worked for at the time wanted a contract signed, and they wanted it done that day, so that’s what I did. And you couldn’t have done it otherwise. I flew from London to New York and landed two hours before the New York-London flight, so I caught that one and then I got into London in time before coming back to catch the Concorde back to New York.
On the Concorde, I used to take bottles of cognac and champagne for the crew, and they used to do the same for me. It was like a very small family on the Concorde - everyone knew each other that flew on the aircraft, and I knew all the crew. I used to make cocktails for the passengers when they were busy. In many cases, I became a part of the crew.
Every flight on the Concorde was amazing.
I had a love affair with this aircraft for 27 years.
It was love at first flight - it’s unbelievable.
Q: AS SOMEONE WHO’S FLOWN MORE THAN HIS FAIR SHARE OVER THE YEARS, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON JET LAG?
A: I don’t believe in jet lag at all - there is no such thing as jet lag.
It’s about dehydration, stress, and being tired. If you take an average flight, 11 hours from San Francisco to London, for example, it’s not actually 11 hours.
You’ve got to check in 2 hours ahead, you have to get through security, and then you’ve got to wait for your flight. You’re already tired, and you’ve got to get on your flight inside a steel aluminum tube, and the air for the cabin is coming through the engine, so it’s dry. So you get exhausted.
Once you get to your destination, you’ve got to go through immigration and go find your hotel or get back home, and so you’ve had a very long day. People do not spray water on their bare skin when flying, which is the best thing to do because of dehydration from the dry air. Every 20 or 30 minutes when you’re flying, you should close your eyes for a few minutes to give your eyes some time to moisturize.
People tell me that I talk a lot of nonsense, but you know what? When you fly on Concorde, you go through the same time changes, in 3 and a half hours, and there was no jet lag at all. I used to fly from London to New York, go to work all day, and sometimes fly back overnight. Recently, I did the inaugural Boeing Dreamliner flight from London to Atlanta with Richard Branson. This was a beautiful airplane, and the cabin pressure was lower. It’s not hot - it’s actually quite humid, so you don’t get as tired, because your skin is not dry now. Jet lag is really about dehydration, tiredness, and stress. You can feel it when your eyes are dry and heavy, so I take a little water spray with me and it makes an awful lot of difference. But I’ve never had jet lag in my life, and I’ve flown across the Atlantic over 2000 times.
Q: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH RICHARD BRANSON AND YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THE CREATION OF VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS.
A: Well, I came off the Concorde one night in New York, and I caught the helicopter over to Newark. This guy came up to me in Newark and said “You’re Fred Finn”, and I said “Yes.”
He said “Richard Branson would like to have a lunch with you”.
I said “Well, that’s fine, I’ll be back in London in 3 to 4 days’ time”.
He said “It’s tomorrow”.
I said “When did you know about this?”
He said “We knew this morning that you’d be coming here this evening”.
I said “Well, I was in London 4 hours ago, I just came on Concorde, and if you had told me in London, I would have stayed there”.
He said “Well, we’ve just got this flight, we’ve got a seat on it for you”, so instead of going home, I got on another flight and flew back to London.
I met Richard in London on a little boat in the river, a houseboat. I spent 3 hours with him talking about what he wanted to do with this airline (Virgin Atlantic) and what I could do to help him, so I did.
I helped him with my idea about the limousine and the Upper Class.
At that time, companies were cutting back on first class travel.
Upper Class would do a lot more than many first class seats did - we provided a limousine for each guest, put a masseuse onboard, put a bar onboard, and it was a fun way to fly.
The passengers loved it, and the bean counters loved it as well, since they were paying for business class rather than a first class ticket. Everybody was happy.
I did many things with Richard. I used to fly with the Red Arrows, which is our Royal Air Force Acrobatic Team. I took Richard with me to fly with the Red Arrows. I took him and his wife and 2 children to Kenya on one of my safaris.
I got him his first mobile phone. When the first mobile phone company started here, it was called Cellnet, and I could give phones out to my friends, because they wanted famous people, celebrities using their phones. So I gave him a phone and every week, his assistant would call up and say that he’s lost his phone.
Do you remember the first phones? They were like a house brick back then. He kept losing it or he’d call me on it.
The chairman of the company and I had very similar numbers, and Richard would misdial every time.
I played cricket with him in America along with Pamela Anderson and the Los Angeles Lakers in a place in Santa Monica.
Recently, I went on the inaugural Dreamliner flight to Atlanta last year with him, and we had a band onboard, the first ever band onboard streaming back to earth. So yes, I’ve gotten to know Richard quite well over the years, and we still keep in touch regularly.